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After 9/11, I Wrote a Jewish Week Headline Comparing the US to Israel. Here’s Why I Regret It.

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(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — One of the most controversial — and tone-deaf — front-page headlines to appear in The New York Jewish Week during the 26 years I served as editor (1993-2019) was published the morning after 9/11 — 20 years ago.

Across the top of the page, in moon landing-size bold type, it read: “America: The New Israel.”

And underneath, in italics: “As fear and vulnerability grip U.S., will empathy with Jerusalem increase?”

How did Israel somehow take center stage in this American tragedy?

I can criticize the headline and those words because I wrote them.

Looking back now, I realize just how misplaced my anger, sadness and fear were in my immediate response to the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history, one that claimed 3,000 innocent lives at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a lonely field in rural Pennsylvania.

Not in my defense but in the interest of establishing the context of my initial reaction — and of many supporters of Israel — allow me to recall the mood of much of the Jewish world, here and in Israel, in early September 2001. It was, to be blunt, one of deep despair.

In Durban, South Africa, international anti-Semitism reached a new high — or low — when the United Nations World Conference Against Racism adopted a resolution labeling Israel an “apartheid, racist” state and accused its government of “genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

The U.S. and Israel withdrew their delegations on determining that they could not remove anti-Israel language from the final declaration of the conference.

But Durban is hardly remembered now, its miserable outcome overtaken by the leap from rhetorical terror to the real thing.

In early September, Israel was one year into the Second Intifada, a uniquely brutal and frightening period when it seemed that Palestinian terrorists were killing Israelis on an almost daily basis.

It’s difficult to convey the sense of fear and outrage that hung over the country like a dark cloud. I returned from a five-day trip to Israel on Sunday, Sept. 9, relieved to have avoided terrorism first-hand. That same day, three Israeli men (one was 19 years old) were killed by a Hamas suicide bomber on a train in Naharia.

Every day, parents feared that when they sent their children off to school in the morning, they might never see them again. The battle was waged not on distant fields but on the streets of Israeli cities, in cafes, hotels, on buses and trains.

During that first year, 110 Israeli men, women and children were killed — almost all of them civilians — in 51 separate incidents of suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, stabbings and stonings across the country. Sixteen teenagers and five other young people were blown up at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv; 13-year-old Koby Mandell and his 14-year-old friend Yosef Ishran were stoned to death in a cave in Tekoa on Lag B’Omer; a five-month-old baby was stoned in an attack in Shiloh; a 40-year-old woman, five months pregnant, was shot in her car near Karne Shomron; and 15 people were blown away by a suicide bomber one August afternoon in a Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem.

According to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 1,137 Israelis were killed during the Second Intifada, which lasted five years. Its most common weapon: suicide bombers targeting innocents. Its most lasting impact: convincing a majority of Israelis that making peace with the Palestinians was a dream-turned-nightmare.

The intifada’s impact on Israeli politics is evident two decades later in a country whose citizens have moved increasingly right on the Palestinian issue.

Sickened and stunned

I was back at work on that beautiful Tuesday morning, Sept. 11. After seeing on TV the non-stop clips of a plane smashing into one of the Twin Towers, I looked out the window of my Times Square office and saw and smelled the black clouds in the distance. And then the second plane hit.

I felt sickened and stunned. Not knowing the extent of the tragedy, I already mourned for my fellow Americans. But as we learned more details, I was overly focused on what I saw as the striking parallels between two democracies whose citizens were viciously and unfairly attacked by Arab terrorists. To the perpetrators, the U.S. and Israel were Big Satan and Little Satan.

Particularly galling to me, American officials for months had been calling on Israel to show restraint........

© The Jewish Week

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